If you’ve got any form of Android device – whether it’s a phone or tablet – you simply can’t avoid endless runner games. Since Temple Run grabbed the genre by the horns and gave it the “cool factor” translating it into 3D it seems as if the market is plagued with them with new variants on the theme being released daily ranging from shameless clones, to TV and film tie-ins and even Sony themselves have produced a couple in the shape of Ratchet And Clank: Before The Nexus and PlayStation All-Stars Island bringing games based LittleBigPlanet, Gravity Rush, Uncharted, Ratchet And Clank and Infamous to mobile device.
Apart from the odd side-scrolling variant as part of the Minis and PlayStation Mobile ranges there have been very few games of this ilk to grace the Vita. Developers Beatshapers felt that this was something that needed to be rectified and since 2013 have been working on bringing Z-Run to the Vita but rather than opting for something a little sedated or family friendly they know that Vita gamers are as a whole more mature and seem to enjoy games aimed at an older audience. Yes, as much as it could be interpreted as immature, we love games with gore and a bit of violence as we’ve seen with the immense popularity of the CoD series, and more importantly The Walking Dead, OMG-Z and Dead Nation. Yes, zombies… and they feature quite a lot in Z-Run…
As you’d expect in any zombie-infused game, it follows one of the usual clichéd basic plots and this time the world has been overrun by the aforementioned undead as a result of a virus that has mutated most of the population into seemingly never-ending hordes of flesh-eating fiends. Taking charge of either the game’s hero Alex, or the heroine Clair, all you can do to survive is run… as fast as you can and as far away from the zombies as possible making your way through the city to safety.
It’s not just a case of constant running with zombies in hot pursuit as you might expect from an endless runner though. Instead, the mindless assailants are coming towards you head-on and you’ve got no choice but to make your way past them without being beaten, bitten, gnawed at and generally becoming the next main course at the zombie restaurant. It’s not simply a case of running as best as you can avoiding the zombie menace as not even the toughest outcast from The Walking Dead would stand much of a chance against the hordes that you’re faced with here. Instead you do have a few tricks up your sleeve to help you along the way. As well as controlling your movement with the left analogue stick, you can jump over obstacles in your way, slide to duck under objects (which can also be used as a sliding attack), attack zombies with a well placed knee to the head, and even pick up melee weapons to use against them (and in later stages even firearms).
The game is split into two game modes. The main Campaign Mode sees you trying to escape the city and the run itself is broken into short stages. Reach the end of these and you can then choose which route you take through the city. Depending on how well you do during each run, you earn experience and skill points that you can use to upgrade your character’s abilities and stats… and you’re going to need to! These play a major part in the game throughout and lift Z-Run far above typical endless runners. You have a set amount of health allowing you to take a limited number of hits but this can be increased when you upgrade.
Just as important throughout is your stamina. Represented on screen by a blue bar, this is needed during the game for every action that you perform – jumping, sliding, attacking, dodging… while it replenishes over time it does mean that you can’t simply run around with a baseball bat hitting every zombie in sight because you’ll be completely exhausted long before you reach your goal… and besides, that wouldn’t make you a particularly nice person!
The other game mode is Survival and this is a more traditional mode for those who are used to endless runners. No stages here – just keep running and survive as long as possible!
Visually this looks great. The main characters are well animated and the whole display has a rather neat “bouncing” effect that you’d expect to see as you run along. While the levels do seem dark and there isn’t a vast amount of variety in the scenery, it suits the game well enough and it’s hard to complain when any zombie apocalypse film pretty much looks the same in terms of set design. I have to be honest and say that the game doesn’t run at the greatest of frame rates so if this is something that is important to you then you may be disappointed here but in reality this doesn’t affect the game at all and for this type of game the overall look still manages to convey the post-apocalyptic horror admirably.
Sound is quite limited to what you would expect from any zombie game – grunts, groans, splats, squelching and other gross-out sound effects as you dispatch each and every zombie that you encounter but little else. Nothing really innovative but it is difficult to do anything new with the genre so it’s not something that I can particularly complain about. Probably the highlight for me is the rock title track… but then again, anything like that will keep an old metalhead like me happy!
I was genuinely surprised by Z-Run. I’m not the biggest fan of endless runners unless there’s some new twist to hook me into it, and Z-Run’s zombie theme managed to do just that. It’s tough enough to give you a challenge in the Campaign Mode and even when you’ve completed that, the Survival Mode adds plenty of long term appeal to keep you coming back. It’s not without its flaws – an option to adjust the screen brightness would have been very welcome as the game can be too dark at time, and if you collide with large vehicles it is possible to get trapped behind them and effectively end up losing all your energy. Despite this it’s a fun game and great for quick pick-up-and-play sessions… just maybe not something to play with the lights out…!
At A Glance
- Title: Z-Run
- Publisher: Beatshapers
- System: PS Vita
- Format: PSN Download
- Cross Buy: N / A
- Online Multiplayer: No
- Local Multiplayer: No
- Memory Card Space Needed: 150Mb